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The illustrator, author and mother of two on getting crafty, letting go of perfectionism, being of service and creating new rituals

The festive season brings with it a flurry of emotions, from excitement and celebrations to busy preparations and time to reflect. We asked The Joy Journal founder Laura Brand about what this time of year means to her, and how she looks after the wellbeing of herself and others at Christmastime.

What epitomises Christmas for you?

Enormous gratitude for family, friends and home. The spirit of giving (being of service to others) and of joy.

How do you usually celebrate during the festive season? Are there any traditions, or rituals, that signify this time of year for you?

We light candles in the mornings, we craft a lot and light the fire. Watch The Snowman (or at least I do, while my kids ask for Paw Patrol!) We made a mindful advent calendar last year – with nature materials and little bags with messages in – and I will do the same again this year.

How will you be celebrating this year? Will you be doing anything different to usual?

This year, we will wait to hear about the regulations around group gatherings before setting our hearts on our usual big family Christmas, but whatever happens we will make it special and magical for our girls. We also want to make sure we really do what we can to help those who need a little bit more comfort and joy than usual.

What has been your most memorable Christmas, and why?

I think our first Christmas as parents is my most memorable. Mabel was just over 1 month old and I was knocked sideways with both exhaustion and more love than I’ve ever felt. We were in hibernation mode, which was perfect for winter and our families were all in baby heaven – it just felt so new and exciting.

"I am really learning to let go of perfectionism and relax into the flow of things more"

Laura Brand

Cooking is often seen as a cathartic pastime, who does the festive cooking in your home?

I find cooking incredibly cathartic, especially for a group. I love planning, sourcing produce and the meditative process of prep (alas, I don’t feel this for baking, which I find rather stressful). My passion for time in the kitchen and hosting is from my mum, who is an incredible cook and so organised and creative. She is the master of Christmas cooking, and I am the sous chef – I am also in charge of the vegetarian options.

Does the festive period bring any challenges for you? If so, how do you approach/manage them?

I would say it’s the overwhelm that affects me the most at this time. Whether that’s the incoming gifts, buying pressure or even, at points, the social aspect. The festive period can bring with it a lot of pressure to meet expectations. The overwhelm manifests as feeling like a rabbit in the headlights, and a need for retreat. I am really learning to let go of perfectionism and relax into the flow of things more. I’m also developing new family rituals for my family and children, which gives the season anchors – from homemade Christmas decorations to being of service to others.

The festive season can be quite busy and stressful. What have you found helps you to relax, and stay calm and positive, during this time?

Good music playlists, candlelight and fires, fresh air (wrapped up in warm clothes) and going with the flow.

What do you think is the best way to give back and help others at this time of year?

It is a very difficult time for a lot of people, so my suggestion would be to find a charity near you that helps those with mental health needs, addictions or food requirements, and give whatever is suitable for you – that could be volunteering work, a donation to a charity or a donation to a food bank. Also, being available to those friends, family and neighbours who might need a phone call, a card or some shopping.

"Rather than a physical gift, I most want to just feel present and connected, to keep calm and see our families"

Laura Brand

What is the most meaningful gift you could give to somebody?

We love homemade gifts in our home. I usually make a few beauty products for my mum and sister, such as body oil and bath salts. We also love making clay gifts with the girls (pots and dishes), or bunting and garlands – these are all made with a lot of love and joy so I feel they are meaningful, even in their simplicity.

What’s your festive wrapping style? 

I usually wrap in brown paper with raffia or twine, sometimes we make our own gift tags from the big pile of homemade artwork we have around, or use dried oranges. This year, I’m going to try “Furoshiki” which is a Japanese method of wrapping gifts in material, so I have been collecting material off-cuts to give it a go. This is a lovely way to reuse, with no waste.

What would you most like to receive this year?

I think rather than a physical gift, I most want to just feel present and connected, to keep calm and see our families.

Do you have a favourite Christmas song?

I love the Maccabees cover of Walking in the Air, and also Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song.

Reflecting on the past year and all of its challenges, could you share with us a positive that you discovered amidst the adversity, or something you learned that you’ll be taking forward with you into 2021?

Precious time with the family, enjoying walks and meals together, and slowing down have been the most important gifts for me this year.

Laura Brand is an illustrator, author and mother of two. Laura uses her Instagram page @thejoyjournal to share engaging activities and easy crafts for adults and kids, while encouraging play and connection to nature. Laura has led workshops for children and adults at Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place Festival, Port Eliot festival. Her first book The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play, offers conscious craft and mindful play for early years children onwards, and is a best seller. 

The Royal Exchange is partnering with Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest to encourage conversations about mental health, wellbeing and community spirit. For further information on Mind in the City, its support services and how you can get involved with fundraising or volunteering, please visit: mindchwf.org.uk